by State Representatives Tommy Brann and Chris Afendoulis
Last year, West Michigan led the nation in job growth. That’s no surprise. Grand Rapids is an innovative, hard-working community with a talent for converting barriers into opportunities. True to that spirit, we sponsored House Bills 4664 and 4969.
These bills are part of an 18-bill “Youth in Prison” package, which was authored to provide opportunities to young people in our community, even those who have made mistakes as teenagers.
HB 4664, by Chris Afendoulis, is one of several bills in the package that would change the definition of “juvenile” from 17 to 18 in various Michigan statutes. HB 4969, by Tommy Brann would ensure that kids under age 18 are held in juvenile detention facilities, instead of adult jails, while awaiting trial.
Why are these bills necessary?
Unfortunately, Michigan continues to automatically prosecute all 17-year- olds as adults. We’ve fallen behind the rest of the nation; only four other states maintain this antiquated process. Not only does the policy effectively eliminate young people from our future workforce, it also places long-term cost burdens on taxpayers.
As business owners, we recognize this practice as a barrier to our community’s next generation of talent. As state legislators, our goal is to convert that barrier into opportunity.
Raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18 has been much debated here in Michigan. So far, the focus has been on short-term costs. That’s a mistake. No policy discussion is complete without a proper discussion of long-term costs—and consequences—of maintaining a law that is out-of- step with the ideals of our great state.
The juvenile justice system, with its rehabilitative services, is the proper placement for teens. Rehabilitation is a common-sense investment in the futures of young people, creating potential for massive long-term savings and other social benefits. Youth incarcerated in the adult system remain in prison approximately four times longer than those who are placed in juvenile facilities. Most disturbingly, their chances at rehabilitation effectively end there
This, in turn, increases crime and decreases public safety: young offenders exiting the adult system are 34 percent more likely to reoffend than their counterparts exiting the juvenile system. Worse yet, they reoffend sooner—and their crimes escalate to more violent offenses.
The societal consequences don’t end there. Adult convictions, as opposed to juvenile dispositions, create life-long barriers to housing, employment and education—restricting affected youth from becoming productive, tax-paying citizens.
Also, note how the current law harms Michigan citizens: if a 17-year- old resident of Ohio, Illinois, or Indiana commits the same crime, on the same day, as a 17-year- old Michigander, that out-of- state youth can later come to Michigan and gain acceptance into college, find a job, and qualify for an abundance of housing options.
The Michiganders? They will face life-long barriers to education, employment, and housing. As a direct consequence, these Michigan youth will earn 40 percent less in lifetime earnings than their counterparts from Ohio, Illinois, or Indiana.
By raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction, we can end these inequities while likely making a cut to the Department of Corrections’ $2 billion annual budget. The opportunity to rehabilitate young people and nurture their ability to work and pay taxes—rather than creating a reliance on public assistance upon release from adult prison—is a strong investment in Michigan’s
Tommy Brann, R-Wyoming, represents the 77th Michigan House District and is owner of Brann’s Restaurants. Chris Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids Township, represents the 73rd Michigan House District and is co-owner of Afendoulis Cleaners and Tuxedos.